Since the age of 15, Michelle, who didn’t want her real name printed, had suffered from crippling migraines. Since her early 20s, she had battled depression, taking a variety of medications that provided little relief and came with a host of side effects, including extreme weight-gain, fainting spells and mood swings.
At 48 years old, she was on permanent disability, rarely spoke to friends and family, went weeks without leaving her home and eventually became haunted by thoughts of suicide.
“The depression robbed me of everything,” she said. “I felt worthless, like a burden on my family. All I wanted was to find something to make it stop, something that would let me have a normal life.”
Having suffered for years with chronic migraines, Michelle was comfortable trying new and even experimental treatments.
“I’ve been on the front lines with headaches, so I’ve gotten used to being a guinea pig,” she said. “I was getting botox for migraines before anybody was doing it to treat their wrinkles.”
It was just this kind of desperate curiosity that led Michelle to the Anniston office of psychiatrist Dr. Glenn Archibald. Since October, Archibald has been running the Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Wellness Institute, offering a relatively new, non-invasive treatment for moderate to severe depression. It is the only such facility in the area, the next-closest one being in Birmingham.
“I believe that this is the new line of defense for depression,” Archibald said. “The other choices of treatment are terribly limited, which is why TMS is going to save and change a lot of lives.”
TMS was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2008 after more than 10 years of clinical investigation.
TMS stimulates nerve cells in an area of the brain that research has linked to depression by delivering highly focused, MRI-strength levels of magnetic pulses.
During a TMS treatment, a clinical assistant places a magnetic wire coil encased in plastic against one side of a patient’s scalp while the patient is reclined in a comfortable chair.
Magnetic impulses are generated by the coil positioned on the head above the left prefrontal cortex. The magnetic fields penetrate approximately two to three centimeters beneath the coil, directly into the brain, to produce electrical currents. These currents activate cells within the brain that are thought to release neurotransmitters, which play a role in mood regulation.
“It is absolutely painless and non-invasive,” Archibald said. “The only possible side effect is scalp irritation, and that can be corrected.”
Patients undergo treatment for 37 minutes, five days a week, for four to six weeks.
TMS is recommended for those patients who, like Michelle, have undergone a lengthy regimen of antidepressants and have seen few results, or who feared potential side effects such as weight gain, sexual dysfunction and brain fog.
“I’m very pleased with our success rates so far,” Archibald said. “Compared with what I’ve seen from antidepressants … this is remarkable.”
The treatments cost about $400 each, or $12,000 for six weeks, which Archibald understands is rather expensive for some patients.
“The psychiatric community is recognizing the value of this treatment,” he said. “I only wish that the same could be said for the insurance companies.”
Given the success rate of the TMS treatments, Archibald believes it will only be a matter of time.
“What we have seen is that patients who used TMS have then gone two years without relapsing,” he said.
“In the long run, TMS is more cost-effective than what can be a lifetime of using different antidepressants with varying success.
“What we’re doing is giving people their lives back.”
Count Michelle among them. After her five weeks with TMS, she’s noticed a “huge” difference. She’s able to leave the house. She had dinner with her mother for the first time in more than a year. And she is planning on going back to work.
“It’s changed everything,” she said. “I can’t imagine where I’d be without it. I finally feel like I might have a normal life.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more
TMS Wellness Institute is at 1302 Noble St., Anniston.
For more information, call 256-434-1867 or visit www.tmswellnessinstitute.com.
Free consultations are available.